By: Dr Arpita Hazarika
The fact that after 7 days of warning, Myanmar’s mortar shells have again arrived inside the Bangladesh border and the violation of airspace by army helicopters is undoubtedly worrying. Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also summoned the Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka about the concern of the government. If Myanmar had been careful after the first outburst, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But why happened the second time?
As we know, the Arakan Army has been fighting for the autonomy of the Rakhine State bordering Bangladesh for a long time. They have started armed struggle for this purpose. Especially in recent times Arakan Army has become strong in weapons and other aspects. For this, the Myanmar army is conducting operations against them at almost regular intervals. Operations and counter-attacks have been going on in Rakhine state for the past two-three weeks. Because of this conflict, mortar shells or bullets are falling in the border area of Bangladesh. In my opinion, not only the ammunition used by the Myanmar military; The increasingly powerful Arakan Army may also come under fire. But whatever the reason; The Myanmar government is responsible for such a situation on the Bangladesh border.
The question is – Is Myanmar intentionally firing shells like this inside our border to provoke Bangladesh? I don’t think so. Because of the conflict with the Arakan Army in Rakhine State; It is evident in the local and international media. But it is being said that, even if not intentionally, according to international law, ammunition cannot be dumped inside Bangladesh due to the internal conflict in Myanmar.
Now, what can we do when Myanmar is not paying attention despite repeated warnings? I think, along with diplomatic warnings, there should be increased vigilance and vigilance at the border militarily. In the long term, the Bangladesh Border Guard Force (BGB) should strengthen its presence on that border. Considering the geo-political situation and Rohingya infiltration, Bangladesh needs to strengthen its military position in the region.
At the same time, I would say that in addition to the diplomatic warning, Bangladesh Army, Navy and Air Force can show ‘military response’ from within the border. Just as the Air Force can patrol the border area with fighter jets, the Navy can also patrol around the Naff River or St. Martin’s Island with warships. It will send a message to Myanmar – Bangladesh is not taking the matter well. If not careful, the consequences will not be good. That doesn’t mean we want instability. Rather, they need to understand that we are not sitting idly by.
However, Bangladesh must react strongly to Myanmar’s recent behavior in the border area; It is also important to show restraint. Because Rohingya repatriation is an important challenge for Bangladesh. If Bangladesh confronts Myanmar militarily, they may get a lame excuse. Using the issue of military tension can divert attention from Rohingya repatriation. For that reason, Bangladesh’s tolerant response to these behaviors of Myanmar is correct.
Needless to say, the Myanmar border is unstable on almost all sides. Because different separatist organizations are active inside Myanmar. Especially the way Myanmar’s minority groups are victims of persecution; That is why armed resistance has developed among them. That is why we are seeing, not only shelling on Bangladesh border or violation of our airspace; The same happened with Myanmar-bordering China and Thailand. Earlier in 2017 and 2018, Myanmar violated the airspace of Bangladesh.
We remember that in 2015, four farmers were killed when Myanmar warplanes entered China. In view of China’s massive protest in that incident, Myanmar expressed regret to China. Myanmar violates Thailand’s airspace the most. Because the Karen National Union, an armed organization of Myanmar’s Karen minority group, has its stronghold near the Thai border. As I said earlier, shelling is happening on the Bangladesh border due to the conflict with the Arakan Army. It is not improbable that members of the Arakan Army moved close to the Bangladesh border or ever crossed the border because of the operation.
It must be remembered that instability within Myanmar is not new. The conflict has been ongoing since the mid-1950s, when Burmese language and culture were imposed on minority groups. Sometimes conflict increases, sometimes decreases. Its influence is not limited only to Myanmar. Rohingyas living in Rakhine have been seeking refuge in Bangladesh at different times to escape persecution by the Myanmar military. The killing, genocide, rape and persecution of Rohingyas as part of the latest ethnic cleansing in 2017; As a result, at least seven million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to save their lives.
In the past few years, Myanmar has been under a lot of international pressure for the Rohingya issue, but it still survives with the blessing of the other part of the international community. Due to these conflicts within Myanmar, neighboring countries including Bangladesh are being affected and the activities of the separatists within the country; This may destabilize the region, the impact of which is bound to fall at the international level as well. But the regional or international pressure on Myanmar is not seen that way. Neither Russia, China nor India are taking the issue of Myanmar seriously because of their geopolitical interests. Such a response is not seen from the regional organization ASEAN or BIMSTEC.
Even Myanmar’s junta chief is visiting Russia next week to attend the Eastern Economic Forum conference. Representatives of several countries including China, India, Japan will also participate in the conference. Earlier, the junta chief also attended the ASEAN summit.
For these reasons, there has been no change in the behavior of Myanmar’s military for decades. Instead, they have been taking brutal measures to suppress the citizens who are protesting against the military regime since they seized power after overthrowing the elected government in February last year. Thousands of people have already been injured. Countless citizens have been jailed. Now the military junta has become reckless within Myanmar as well as its excesses in relations with its neighbors – as evidenced by the violation of Bangladeshi airspace and cross-border shelling.
That’s right, Myanmar’s provocations cannot be tolerated. But if Bangladesh is completely silent on this side, the situation is far from improving, it may deteriorate further. The story of Myanmar religion is not worth listening to.
(The author is a Gauhati University, Assam, India-based researcher. She is very interested in refugee affairs, political economy, security and strategic affairs, and foreign policies of the Asia-Pacific region. She visited a number of countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, UK, USA, France, Japan, Australia, Thailand, Singapore, and Canada)
Should Bangladesh respond to the war provocation of Myanmar?
By: Dr Arpita Hazarika